Thus they stood firm, strong-hearted,
Young heroes in battle. Earnestly there they contended
To see who with the sword-point might first of all
Win the prize of life from doomed men,
The lives of warriors with weapons. The slain fell to earth.
But the men stood steadfast; Beorhtnoth spurred them on,
Bidding each of the young men to set his heart on the battle,
Everyone who would win glory from the Danes.
Then on came a hardened warrior, upheaved his weapon,
Hunkered behind his shield, and strode against the chief.
Just as resolute the eorl charged the churl:
Either to the other evil intended.
Then hurled the sea-warrior a southern-made spear,
Thus wounding the lord of warriors;
But Beorhtnoth thrust back with his shield so that the shaft to-burst,
Shivering the spear and making it spring back again.
Filled with fury was the warrior: with his spear he stung
The Viking proud, the one who had him wounded.
Wise was the chief: in he thrust in the javelin;
Right through the young fighter’s neck his hand guided it
Until it reached the life-source of his sudden enemy.
Then another shaft he swiftly shot,
Bursting the byrnie, wounding the man in the breast
Through the linked rings; at his heart stood
The poisoned point. The eorl was all the blither.
He laughed, brave man that he was, giving thanks to the Creator
For the good day’s work the Lord had given him.
Then one of the Vikings let go a dart from his hand.
From his palm it flew; straight on it went,
Right through Beorhtnoth, the noble thane of Aethelred.
At his side stood a barely grown youth,
A mere boy in the battle, who full bravely
Drew from the warrior the bloody spear –
Wulfstan’s bairn, Wulfmaer the Young;
Back again he shot the spear swift against the foe;
In went the point so that on the earth lay
That very man who lately had so terribly pierced his lord.
At this a crafty fighter drew near to the eorl,
Intending his arm-rings to bring away,
His armor and ring-mail and ornamented shield.
Then from the sheath Beorhtnoth drew his sword,
Broad and bright-edged, and struck the man upon the byrnie;
But one of the shipmen deftly hindered him,
Injuring the eorl’s arm with his blow.
Then to the earth fell the gold-hilted sword,
Nor might he any longer hold the hard blade
Nor weapon wield. Yet still he spoke a word,
That hearty warrior, encouraging the young men
And bidding the good comrades to go forth.
Then, when he could no longer on his feet securely stand,
Beorhtnoth looked to the heavens and said:
“I thank Thee, Ruler of peoples,
For all the joys that I in the world have known.
Now I have, Merciful Creator, most need
That Thou to my spirit grant good,
That my soul to Thee might depart,
Into Thy kingdom, Lord of angels,
To go in peace. I only ask of Thee
That these Hell-fiends may not prevail.”
Then they hewed him, those heathen cutthroats,
And both of the men who by him stood …
* * * * *
(At this point many of Beorhtnoth’s men flee the field. But others – especially his loyal thanes – press on, resolving to die beside their fallen lord rather than abandon him. They make one last desperate stand. One of their number, Beorhtwold, cries out as his comrades fall on every side:)
“Will shall be the harder heart the keener
Spirit the greater as our power lessens!
Here lies our prince all forhewn,
A good man on the ground; may he ever mourn
Who now from this war-play thinks to go.
I am old of years. I will not go away,
But intend by the side of my own lord,
A man so well-beloved, to lie me down.”
(The manuscript cuts off as they prepare to fight to the bitter end …)